Degree Options & Potential Careers
Like any terminal degree, earning a doctorate in project management online qualifies graduates for many of the most senior jobs in the field. Mid-to-late-career project managers — who have at least 5-10 years of experience — can advance into positions like senior executives, business professors, or high-level managers for corporations or nonprofit organizations.
While job requirements vary, most employers — especially those at large corporations and high-profile institutions — prefer to hire top executives who hold an advanced degree and possess ample experience in project management or a related area. Many top executives are self-employed or work in professional, scientific, or technical services.
Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Project Management?
While the decision to pursue a doctorate in project management online requires a strong commitment, students can look forward to a wealth of personal and professional benefits if they put in hard work. Like any field, project management rewards those who possess terminal degrees with exclusive job opportunities and increased salary potential.
Project managers with a doctoral degree are eligible for many of the highest-paying jobs in the field. For example, experienced top executives, like CEOs and operations managers, can earn an annual salary of more than $200,000.
Graduates of a doctoral program in project management have a broad set of career options available to them. These workers can qualify for roles throughout business, government, and academia.
Project managers with a doctoral degree can also make their own hours. While many project managers work in professional, scientific, and technical services — or for the government — the largest sector of project management doctoral degree-holders (23%) is self-employed. For example, consultants typically obtain years of experience in addition to an advanced degree, giving them maximum flexibility in their work schedule and field of expertise.
Earning a doctoral degree in project management online can also save students time and money. Whether a doctoral candidate plans to move up to an executive or academic career, pursuing an online degree enables students to accumulate industry experience while fitting their education into their busy schedule.
What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Project Management?
Project managers with a doctorate and years of experience can pursue their choice of career. Equipped with highly adaptable skills, managers with a doctorate may possess the qualifications needed for employment within public and private institutions, government agencies, and academia.
Nearly every sector of the workforce requires project managers. A large percentage of project managers provide professional services for private businesses, large corporations, and startup companies. Many senior project managers in their late career work in fields such as IT, construction, and manufacturing. Others work as self-employed consultants or management and leadership specialists. While specific requirements vary, employers often prefer candidates who also hold the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
Project managers may also pursue a more specialized career path at a government agency, working as a scholar or a research scientist. Doctoral degree-holders can also qualify for jobs in the public sector such as mayors or governors.
Professionals may qualify for different types of positions depending on what kind of degree they earn. For instance, a doctorate in business administration (DBA) is typically reserved for professionals interested in jobs in the business world. These graduates pursue careers as top executives within global corporations. They may also work as independent consultants.
Alternatively, a Ph.D. usually leads to a more research-oriented degree path. Graduates with this degree usually fill scholarly positions, such as college professors, or serve as research experts for private institutions. While some community colleges and vocational schools accept instructors with only a master's degree, graduates with an online doctorate in project management may qualify for postsecondary education positions at national and international universities, including Ivy League institutions with world-renowned business schools.
- Senior Project Manager
- Senior project managers oversee all aspects of a project for a company or client. Many senior-level professionals supervise entry-to-mid-level project managers or personnel teams. Senior project managers must prepare and maintain budgets and timelines and communicate with stakeholders regarding their projects. Project managers can enter the field with a bachelor's degree, but they usually need a graduate degree for senior management positions, especially within a large corporation.
- Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education
- Professors in a university setting need a doctorate in business and/or project management to qualify for this job. Some community college positions require only a master's degree; however, earning a terminal degree qualifies professors for elite teaching opportunities at top international universities.
- Chief Operating Officer
- COOs typically fill the second-highest executive position — under the CEO — within a corporation or organization. They must have extensive field experience, and most COOs possess a graduate degree in a business specialization, such as project management. These professionals maintain all aspects of daily operations and performance within an organization.
- Director of Operations
- Operations directors must hold an advanced degree in a business specialization — such as project management — and multiple years of experience in high-level management. These professionals typically work with COOs and chief financial officers to maintain productivity, policies, and employee relations.
- Executive Director, Nonprofit Organization
- Often the highest-level executive position within a nonprofit, an executive director manages the many facets of a nonprofit organization, including community outreach, marketing, and development. While some small companies may only require a bachelor's degree for this position, most mid-to-large-size companies prefer managers with an advanced degree, as well as 5-10 years of experience.
Project Management Doctoral Program Overview
Students interested in achieving a doctoral education in project management have multiple options from which to choose. The field offers different terminal degrees, each with their own set of characteristics and each leading to different career paths for graduates. The sections below outline the application instructions, sample curricula, and potential careers for these doctoral degrees in project management.
Types of Doctoral Degrees in Project Management
Prospective doctorate in project management students can choose a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in project management, a doctorate in management (DM) with a concentration in project management, a doctor of business administration (DBA) with a concentration in project management, or a similar non-Ph.D. doctorate in the subject. Students should carefully consider which degree serves their individual career goals and interests the best.
Ph.D. and DBA tracks share much of the same core curricula but emphasize different themes. The research-oriented Ph.D. typically culminates in a dissertation, while the DBA stresses pragmatic business and management skills; a DBA may require a capstone experience in lieu of a formal dissertation process. Alternatively, a DM combines distinct characteristics of both the theoretical Ph.D. and the applied DBA degrees.
Along with different graduation requirements, each degree has its own timeline for completion; program length also depends on whether a student enrolls on a full-time or part-time basis. For instance, a traditional Ph.D. can last 4-8 years, while some DMs or DBAs promote career advancement for graduates through accelerated programs. Not all schools offer online doctoral degrees in project management, but many that do let full-time students complete their doctorate in 3-5 years online.
In most cases, students aspiring to careers in postsecondary education, academia, or research in project management choose a Ph.D. Conversely, candidates looking to become self-employed consultants, corporate executive, or government leader may prefer the business and management skills earned during a DM or DBA track.
Application Requirements and Admission Criteria
While admission requirements vary from one school to another, applicants must meet the same general criteria to qualify for most project management doctoral programs. For instance, students must possess a master's degree from an accredited institution — typically in any subject for a DBA and in project management or a closely related concentration for a Ph.D. program. Most programs require a minimum GPA, usually ranging from 3.0-3.5.
Experience requirements also vary. As a terminal degree, schools may expect applicants to be currently employed in the field or hold several years of experience at the time of application. Each program specifies the nature and length of its experience requirements for doctoral applicants; some Ph.D. programs accept a broader range of academic experience, while DBAs tend to prefer applicants with varied experiences in management and business.
While programs vary, many doctoral programs in project management follow the same structure and format. A doctorate in this subject splits coursework between core and specialization courses and usually culminates in a dissertation or capstone experience. In some cases, programs also require a practicum or field experience, as well as elective course options.
Doctoral programs often differ in the amount of credits required to graduate. A Ph.D. in project management is roughly 48-60 credits, while a DBA or DM may require around 100 credits. A school that offers a doctorate in project management online may also require brief on-campus residencies, such as an orientation/workshop or a dissertation seminar. However, most online programs give learners ample flexibility, such as multiple start dates and/or accelerated completion times.
Some programs require a multifaceted final project experience. A critical element of a doctoral degree, students should expect to conclude any Ph.D., DBA, or DM track with a dissertation or capstone; however, some programs also require a comprehensive doctoral exam or evaluation as a final requirement. The list below describes some of the courses students can expect to complete.
Earning a doctoral degree can help experienced project managers elevate their careers to new heights. While students with lower-level degrees in project management qualify for entry-level jobs in business and management, doctoral degree-holders qualify for executive-level positions that require strong leadership skills.
Graduates of a project management doctoral program pursue advanced positions that require strong writing, research, and strategic management skills. In addition to core business and leadership concepts, doctoral programs in project management build soft skills for the workforce. Doctoral programs emphasize decision-making, communication, problem-solving, and time management skills to produce successful and effective project managers.
Accreditation for Online Project Management Doctoral Programs
Students should ensure that any prospective schools hold regional or national accreditation through an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Additionally, many of the best programs feature programmatic accreditation, which is specific to a particular discipline or field of study. For project management, students should look for programs that hold accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). This organization accredits project management programs and specializations that meet the council's rigorous standards, which are related to factors such as quality, academic support, and faculty credentials. ACBSP was the first organization in the U.S. to award accreditation specifically for college business programs at all levels of study.